It was shear madness on Pearl Jam's part - to protest the choke-hold that Ticketmaster had on touring bands by playing non-Ticketmaster venues in the summer of 1996. In NYC, that meant no Garden, no Brendan Byrne, no Beacon, no Yankee or Shea Stadium, no Giants Stadium. . . .the list went on & on.
So where does that leave a top-tier touring band that wants to play New York City? At Downing Stadium on Randall's Island - a small plot of land (technically part of the Borough of Manhattan) in the East River. To get there from Manhattan, one had to travel across the Tri-Boro Bridge and, once paying your toll, quickly take the 1st exit off (otherwise, you'd quickly find yourself in Queens or The Bronx).
Your $27.50 got you into the show. Being that it was general admission, your sharp-elbows and tolerance for pain got you a good seat (or - rather - a good position for standing). After opening sets from The Fastbacks & the then-unknown Ben Harper, it was on to the main event! Eddie Vedder kicked off the show announcing. . .
"We’re going to try something a little bit different tonight. I’m anticipating the songs to be played better tonight then they ever have been played, and maybe, I just have this feeling there’s going to be more songs tonight then we’ve ever played. OK having said that relax, it’s all about your ears, the air around you, enjoy yourself."
After a fairly mellow start, songs 2, 3, 4 & 5 of the set were "Go", "Spin The Black Circle", "Hail Hail" & "Animal " - which successfully threw the sea of arms, legs, hair, flannel & Doc Martins into a mad frenzy. From our POV roughly 30 yards from the stage, we could see security guards removing a steady stream unconscious fans from the crowd.
It wasn't long before Eddie was stopping the show. . . .often in mid-song. . . .admonishing the crowd. . .asking the mosh-pit (20-25 yards in front of us) to settle down (a kid had recently been crushed to death at Nirvana show in Germany and PJ was not looking for a repeat). The band would eventually fire back up. . .the sea of humanity pushed & swayed. . .and the mosh-pit would eventually get out of control again. Again, Ed would stop the show and let everyone know that if people were getting hurt, the band wouldn't be party to that and they'd end the show. . . .but if everyone could be cool & respectful of the people next to them, they'd play all night.
After nearly 3 hours of rockin', singin', dancin', howlin', thrashin'. . . .and at times fending for our lives (no joke). . . .we were toast. . . .but the band played on (at this point, they'd run through their catalogue & were pulling out cover-songs). Whew! Pearl Jam was still dishing it out but we could take no more - so we managed our way out of the crowd and through the stadium's exit while the band turned out an inspired version of "Baba O'Riley".The next day, we woke up to find ourselves to be battered & bruised. We could hardly move. . .let alone speak. But the balm that soothed our aches & pains was the satisfaction in knowing that we - with Pearl Jam - fought the good fight that night.
This Tuesday, I'll be at Philly's Wells Fargo Center with my brother Bob (with whom I attended the Randall's Island show), his wife Tory and my buddy David. On Tuesday, we'll be in Bob's employer's private box - with plenty of room to move about. We'll enjoy complimentary food & drinks - as well hot & cold running water. It'll be 17 years and a million miles removed from that show in September 1996. . . .but who knows. . . .perhaps I'll get a chance to slip down to the floor for a few songs, scream my lungs out, bang up against my fellow PJ-fans and maybe (just maybe!) relive a brief moment from that unforgettable day on Randall's Island.
Thanks, Pearl Jam! See you Tuesday.